A year from today, may we look back and say, “We’ve made the world a kinder place … together.”
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. I prefer to think about the year ahead and what I hope will be different at its end, and then set some intentions to help bring about that change. That’s how this blog was born five years ago, and ultimately how the book, A Year of Living Kindly, came into being.
This year, as I ponder the year ahead, I think about our planet, our values, and our interactions with one another. I think about the epidemic of incivility now swirling around us, and the pandemic it will likely become in the contentious months ahead.
I want to “be the change,” as Gandhi counseled. To do that, I’m recognizing that I need to step up my kindness. I need to:
Pay attention: I want to become better at noticing where my kindness is needed and acknowledging the kindnesses all around me. When I am fully present for my life, I am choosing who I want to be and how I can live my values.
Pause: I need to remember to pause before responding to impolite comments, bad behavior, or perceived slights: In that pause, I can withhold judgment, extend the benefit of the doubt, choose to remain silent, or formulate a thoughtful response. The pause offers me the gift of grace.
Listen generously; think critically: I want to listen to understand. I recently encountered the notion of thinking like a scientist, rather than an attorney. When we think like a scientist, we base our beliefs on evidence—seeking valid and comprehensive information to give us a full picture. Most of us think like attorneys: we decide in advance what we believe and then seek the facts to make our case. We often discard or discount information that doesn’t support our position—or we simply refuse to see it. Changing our way of thinking may remove our blinders.
Exercise courage: Kindness isn’t always easy or safe. I need to more readily stretch beyond my comfort zone to offer my kindness where it is needed. That may mean speaking up when others stay silent, or standing up when others stay seated. It may mean having good intentions but executing them clumsily. It may mean putting myself out there. It means taking a risk and being vulnerable. The world needs to us be willing to be vulnerable.
Curiosity: If I can engage my curiosity more consistently, I may be able to see past unkind words or distressing behaviors. Maybe something else is happening in a person’s life that has caused them to behave badly. Maybe there’s more to learn here. Curiosity leads to a desire to understand … which leads to a desire to help … which leads to kindness.
Practice: Very few skills come to us fully developed. They take practice. There are times when, despite my best intentions, I will fall short. Whether it’s pausing, paying attention, or knowing the right words to say at the right moment, I will occasionally fail. Rather than berating myself for failure, I hope I will redouble my efforts and my commitment to practice, knowing that with steady practice, kindness can become both intentional and instinctive—and that’s when magic happens.
As we enter a year in which we will face challenges and choices that both define us and determine our future, I hope we will choose kindness—even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
May we put to use all the we have learned in 2019 to make 2020 a kinder, better year.